Threat: Climate change
Yep, it’s that big, dreaded term: climate change. Climate change is a broad term, and one that I’m sure you’re familiar with.
If you’re anything like me, the threats to our planet weigh on your mind. It’s hard to feel like you have any control over such a daunting issue. “I’m just one person, what can I do?”
Well, as it turns out, you can do a lot in your daily life to reduce the effects of a changing climate.
What is climate change?
First, let’s talk about what climate change really is. At its most basic, climate change is… well, just that: a changing climate. It means that weather conditions over a long period of time are changing. According to the Government of Canada, Climate change is recognizable by changes in things like temperature, precipitation, and winds.
For the Great Lakes, effects of climate change include increasing water temperatures and water levels, algal blooms, and extreme weather conditions, to name a few. In fact, climate change is having a big effect on the Great Lakes and the region is warming faster than the rest of the US and southern Canada.
What causes climate change?
The short answer? We do.
Climate change is linked to two things happening at the same time: first, an increase in greenhouse gas emissions and second, an increase in development and de-naturalization of the land.
Climate change is probably the most talked about sign of our current historical era: the Anthropocene. In other words, we live in an era in which human beings are dramatically changing the world around us.
But don’t despair. There are easy steps that you can take in your daily life to help mitigate the effects of climate change, not only on the Great Lakes, but globally. Your small changes make a big difference.
What you can do to fight climate change:1
Well done! You’ve already accomplished step one. As the old adage goes, knowledge is power. The more you know about climate change and the issues affecting our Great Lakes, the better equipped you will be to help solve the problems.
Really want to dig deep into the issues? This 2019 report is one of the best summaries of the impacts of climate change on the Great Lakes.
The water that we drink and bathe in comes from the Great Lakes. In the Anthropocene era, the lakes are facing pressures like never before Reducing our water use can help protect this precious resource. Try hang-drying your clothes, taking shorter showers, and turning off the tap when you brush your teeth. Bonus: this can also save you money!
You can ‘greenify’ your daily commute. If you drive, consider buying an electric car or a hybrid, or consider joining a car-share. Ride your bike, walk, or take public transit to your next Great destination. In the Great Lakes region, there are tons of more environmentally friendly ways to get outside, like travelling with ParkBus!
Now, I don't know why you would ever want to leave the Great Lakes region, but if you absolutely must, try to avoid flying if possible. Planes release very high amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. If you do have to fly, there are ways to offset your flight’s emissions.
This is a general rule that can apply broadly to various areas of your life. Modern consumer culture promotes the idea that we need “new” things all the time, especially during the holiday season. Try to purchase less and be conscious of where your products come from.
Buy things that will last and aren’t disposable. You can also check out your local thrift store to find things second hand. Look for items with less packaging, as litter pollution is another grave issue affecting the Great Lakes. It’s hard, but once you start really thinking about reducing consumption, you’ll start to notice that excessive waste everywhere you look.
Vast areas filled with livestock contribute significantly to greenhouse gas emissions. Livestock consume a lot of water, produce a lot of gas, and grain-fed livestock require more resources than they provide. By reducing your consumption of meat, you can significantly reduce your environmental impact.
Try adopting “Meatless Mondays” and going from there. I am not telling you to completely give up bacon and go vegan tomorrow. Like me, you might want to cut down gradually and adopt a “flexitarian” diet. You might be surprised by the new culinary adventures that await you!
Go to farmers markets and support your local producers. You could even take it one step further and start growing your own food! Eating locally reduces emissions that come from transporting food over long distances. Plus, it’s always nice to know exactly where your food comes from.
In fact, food from the Great Lakes region really is great. In Ontario alone, one-third of the land supports a thriving agricultural and food industry, directly in the Great Lakes basin! This industry accounts for a whopping 25% of Canada's agricultural production and it's all thanks to the Greats.
It's also better for the environment to try buying organic produce. Buying organic food means that you aren't supporting the use of agricultural fertilizers, which contribute to algal blooms in the Great Lakes.
Whether it’s preserving natural spaces or reducing emissions, different angles of this issue speak to each of us differently. Everyone has a right to clean water and a healthy future, so don’t be afraid to speak up for change. Most people start by contacting elected officials and asking them to support climate initiatives.
The more we use our voices, the more our representatives understand what truly matters to their constituents. For inspiration, check out singer-songwriter Sarah Harmer voicing her environmental concerns to the Kingston City Council.
Talk to your friends, family, and co-workers about our changing climate. It can be daunting to start a conversation about such a critical and emotional issue. But the more we talk and share our stories, the stronger we will be. Tackling climate change means working together.
Turn off those lights when you leave a room and start being conscious about how much energy you consume. If you're a homeowner, consider using more renewable energy sources, like installing solar panels on your roof.
If you can, add support behind renewable energy projects. Avoid investing in industries that include fossil fuels. Let your bank or company know that you want to invest in renewable energy sources and new technologies. You are part of an exciting and innovative movement of people working to save the planet.
This is one of the easiest, but most critical steps on this list. Get out there and enjoy the simple pleasures that come from being outside in nature, spending time with loved ones, and connecting with your surroundings. Love your Great Lakes and their surrounding natural wonders.
With a changing climate, many amazing Great Lake destinations are disappearing. It’s now more important than ever to see and appreciate all that the Lakes have to offer.
To learn more:
Find out what Swim Drink Fish is doing to monitor water quality in the Great Lakes region with people just like you.
Identify your own connection to water by finding the Great Lakes in your home.
Dig deep into the science of water and climate.